Oral History

Norbert Wollheim describes forced labor at the Buna works

Norbert studied law and was a social worker in Berlin. He worked on the Kindertransport (Children's Transport) program, arranging to send Jewish children from Europe to Great Britain. His parents, who also lived in Berlin, were deported in December 1942. Norbert, his wife, and their child were deported to Auschwitz in March 1943. He was separated from his wife and child, and sent to the Buna works near Auschwitz III (Monowitz) for forced labor. Norbert survived the Auschwitz camp, and was liberated by US forces in Germany in May 1945.


We had the first day of experience when we were, uh, marched to the, to the tremendous area of, of factories of, called Buna. Uh, it was a vast area of mud in these days, uh, it was March, rain had, uh, had come down mercilessly, and, and, and it was, it was, there were no real roads, and so to, to walk was very difficult, took a lot of strength to do it. And then, uh, we were put, uh, especially for newcomers, this was the destiny, you were destined to do the most difficult work, which was transport and, and digging, and, uh, this was not just done in a, in a leisurely way, but, uh, mostly running around with cement and iron and things like that, and, and, and, uh, there are certain techniques how to handle, for instance, a transport of iron in order to protect yourself, and, but with, with cement it was terribly difficult because especially when you, when the rain came down, and these bags, these cement bags opened, then, uh, cement, uh, turned into cake and it covered your, your, your, uh, clothing, and your body, and, uh, uh...the other side of our so-called existence or life there was that there was hardly any, any chance to keep clean because we were not allowed to possess anything, and, and, no, no, no, there was certainly no money, no, uh, no, uh, we had no toothbrushes, we had, uh, uh, no knives, we had, we, we, the only thing they gave us was just a, a bowl, uh, to be used for, for the, for the soup, uh, uh, to which they treated us, but nothing else. And, uh, so, uh, it was, it was difficult, almost impossible to keep, uh, yourself clean, especially under these working conditions, and we were fully aware that, that, uh, uh, without being able to keep clean, all kind of, uh, disasters could strike, diseases and so on. Uh, one of the things, for instance, we learned very fast was that when the cement bags, which had three different layers of paper, uh, opened, you could use the middle layer to, uh, for, for, as, as, as a kind of toilet paper, or to, uh, to, uh, protect your wounds and things like that. So, in other words, you come back to a very, very primitive kind of existence to which not everybody was used.

  • US Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection
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